Children’s services publication statement 8 June 2022
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published an inspection report on the child protection and welfare and foster care services provided by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Cork service area.
HIQA is authorised by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth under Section 8(1)(c) of the Health Act 2007 to monitor the quality and safety of services provided by Tusla. HIQA monitors Tusla’s performance against the National Standards for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2012) and the National Standards for Foster Care (2003).
HIQA conducted a risk-based inspection in Cork in February 2022. This inspection considered the progress the service area had made in addressing key areas for improvement highlighted in previous inspections in 2020 and 2021. The service area was assessed against eight child protection and welfare standards and four foster care standards. Of the 12 standards assessed, 10 were not compliant and two were substantially compliant.
Overall, service leadership and systems of governance were developing well. The new senior management team was striving to embed a consistent approach across the entire service area and was working to deliver a comprehensive change programme to strengthen the quality and safety of its services. Management audits and risk registers were used to monitor progress made, but further work was required to strengthen management checks of the quality of practice and embed organisational learning. The recently developed county-wide child-in-care review team had made good progress in tackling the previously significant backlog of reviews.
While inspectors found evidence of some improvements, additional time and resources were required to address ongoing waiting lists and delays in responding to local need. This would help to achieve a consistently high standard of practice, organisational stability and sustainability.
There remained significant gaps in foster care placements for children with complex needs. In particular, the availability of a suitable range of care placements for a small, highly vulnerable, group of children was inadequate.
There remained areas of social work practice where the pace, level or impact of change had been relatively slow. Social workers for children in care reported ongoing challenges in managing their caseloads to ensure statutory regulations were consistently met. While decisions about deallocation of children in care were informed by management analysis of risk, including the stability of their placement, children in these circumstances experienced different social workers. This often occurred on an issues or short-term basis, which inevitably detracted from the provision of a child-centred service.
The four social work departments, while having a shared direction, were at different stages in delivering improvements. One social work department indicated that 10 of its practitioners had unmanageable caseloads due to the significant challenges it faced in recruiting staff, combined with high levels of turnover in the past year. Other departments had not formally flagged practitioner caseloads as unmanageable. However, two other departments continued to lack capacity to allocate all new referrals in a timely manner. These teams had a high number of cases which were designated as ‘awaiting allocation’; with some children waiting many months before any direct work was done with them and their families.
Safety plans were not sufficiently developed or reviewed for some children referred to child protection and welfare teams.
Further improvement was required to ensure a consistently high standard of supervision and performance development of staff at all levels, and to embed systems of audit and assurance to effectively manage and reduce risks to children and the wider organisation.
The inspection report and compliance plan can be found on www.hiqa.ie.